“Wrath of Man”: emotionless action

revenge flick falls flat; Jason Statham punches below his weight

SCREENGRAB/YOUTUBE: Jason Statham and rapper Post Malone in "Wrath of Man."

Jason Statham first came to my attention when he made the movie, “The Transporter.” I look forward to seeing any film he is in for the relief from reality with a payback sensibility his films often present. For the first time in more than a year, I sat in a real movie theatre (the Century Riverside 12) with an $8 box of popcorn and a $5 soda.

I was waiting for Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham to bring violence and bad boy humor to the film “Wrath of Man.”

Instead they delivered the wrath of woman.

The film opens with a much-too-long credit sequence which references Greek gods of “Wrath.”  I feared  that it was an attempt to explain what we were going to see.  Any opening title sequence has to compete with Saul Bass’s opening for “Walk on the Wild Side.”  Opening titles are works of art in and of themselves. They are the introduction and invitation to what is to come.

The movie begins with Statham (playing a character named H) applying for a job as a guard with an armored car company. Initially he does not present as very adept. He is hired nonetheless, because the company is desperate — guards were recently killed during an attempted robbery. Jason Statham not adept? We do not buy that.

So what is Jason up to? Not very much, as it turns out. He is seeking revenge for the murder of his son. Unlike Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant,” Statham has no relationships to anyone or anything. His character is a hard-core criminal with no redeeming qualities, so it is difficult to be on his side as he bullies, insults and kills his way to the answer.

 Statham is an untrained actor and this movie is where it shows. There is no subtlety in his performance. His character’s son was just murdered, but he does not give us a single emotional hook to hang our caring on. I suspect this is what happens when an actor who is terrific at a certain genre steps out of his league.

Director Guy Ritchie does nothing to help his actors who are all flailing on their own. Josh Hartnett, who actually can act, can’t act in this film.  He characterizes a frightened guard so poorly that I wanted to look away on his behalf. If he is not chewing gum, an acting cliché if there ever was one (several cast members do it), he is flailing his hands and pretending to be terrified.

None of the actors are listening to or talking to each other, which is a basic acting premise. Jason is the star and that is that.

TRAILER/”WRATH OF MAN”: The film was directed by Guy Ritchie; written by Guy Ritchie, Ivan Atkinson, and Bill Block; cast, Jason Statham, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Laz Alonso, Raul Castillo , Deobia Oparei; with Eddie Marsan and Scott Eastwood.

The story written by Ritchie, et al, uses flashbacks to justify what is going on in the present. I do not know why.

The film was shot with a damp gloomy lighting, which did deliver the sleazy impending-doom feeling.

The last half hour of the film turns to a fast-moving crime cape. Enter Scott Eastwood, who, surprisingly enough, was terrific as an entitled, snotty, preppy criminal. When Eastwood kills people without remorse we believe he is capable of doing it because he has set his character up to be that person. In a strange way, I found myself on Eastwood’s side when the final showdown comes between him and Statham.

Director Ritchie spent too much time following Statham’s non-response, which was probably meant to be wrath. I am not sure a good editor could have saved this film, but tighter editing would not have hurt.

There is a lot of acting talent on the screen, though. Eddie Marson is wasted as an office worker (Terry) who does nothing to move the story along.

I offer for your consideration Leonardo DiCaprio, who has never had an acting class. Leonardo is that rare talent who is an acting machine. When I saw Leonardo in Bahs Lehrman’s  “Romeo and Juliet,” I thought, ‘this guy can act’. DiCaprio just has the talent direct from the deities, a blessing all actors pray for.

For all the rest, a good director, lots of acting classes, great editing must do the job.

Lee Strasberg said in class, “talent is sent by the gods, but without training it is a waste”.

DiCaprio is the exception. All other actors need training or a terrific director or they must stick to what they can do.  Statham was asked to step out of his niche without a net. It is the conceit of celebrity that he agreed to this part, perhaps because he believes his own press clippings.

Ever since the John Wick franchise began, I expect real action in an action flick. What such films lack in acting chops, they make up for with real nonstop action. Keanu Reeves, also an actor with no acting training, respects the genre and knows his limitations (at least on film).

I am willing to side with a character who is seeking revenge for the killing of his dog (Reeves’ motivation as John Wick), but, in the case of “Wrath of Man,” not with a character who is seeking revenge for the killing of his son.

Now that is quite an accomplishment.

Reviewer Carol Schaye studied acting with Lee Strasberg and playwriting and critique with Salem Ludwig.

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